Brightest ideas of the week: September 27, 2009

Facebook backs down from invasive program, the ­governor signs bill to insure children, scientists make HIV breakthrough, and Bill and Melinda Gates ­Foundation keeps giving.

1. Tarmac time

Ex-airline CEO backs three-hour limit for passengers stuck on runway

The details: Robert Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines, this week joined passenger-rights advocates in supporting legislation that would require airlines to let passengers get off a plane after they have sat on the tarmac for three hours. The legislation is opposed by his former peers in the airline industry, who say it will increase delays and inconveniences.

2. Signing off

Facebook shuts down highly criticized program

The details: The marketing program that tracked Facebook users’ purchases and preferences and then shared them with their Facebook friends has finally been shut down after almost two years of criticism and a $9.5 million lawsuit. Facebook said the Beacon marketing program was meant to give trusted referrals to its users and help keep them informed of their friends’ interests. But many users complained that it disclosed too much personal information, including purchases on sites such as and

3. Care for children

Governor signs bill to insure kids

The details: This week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that will prevent nearly 700,000 low-income children from losing health insurance. The governor and lawmakers had actually slashed funding for the state’s Healthy Families program in July, in response to a projected $24 billion deficit. The bipartisan bill kept the children from losing their coverage, using grant money from First 5 California, higher premiums and extending a fee on insurers.

4. Life-saving science

Vaccine big step in prevention against HIV infection

The details: In a huge breakthrough against the deadly AIDS virus, scientists in Thailand have created a vaccine against HIV that cuts the risk of becoming infected by 31 percent. The vaccine is a combination of two previously unsuccessful vaccines. Experts warn that this breakthrough is a modest step, but one that will open the door to creating an “effective preventative vaccine.”

5. Green ‘gas’

Electric car charging stations installed along U.S. 101

The details: Electric car drivers who are in the mood for a road trip now have more options between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Five new charging stations were installed in Rabobank parking lots in Salinas, Atascadero, Santa Maria, Goleta and San Luis Obispo along U.S. Highway 101, thanks to Foster City-based SolarCity. SolarCity has already been working with Tesla Motors to install over 100 charging stations in owners’ homes and 2,500 electric charging stations total.

6. Dangerous dinner

Doctors sue KFC over carcinogen in chicken products

The details: Would you like a side of carcinogen with your chicken? Vegetarian advocacy group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is suing Kentucky Fried Chicken over its new grilled chicken. The organization says KFC refused to warn customers that the new product contains a carcinogen, PhIP, which is commonly found in grilled meat. The same organization sued McDonald’s, Burger King, Chick fil-A, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse and T.G.I. Friday’s in 2008 for the same reason.

7. Peace plan

United Nations approves nuclear disarmament pact

The details: The U.N. security council this week voted unanimously in support of a resolution on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. President Barack Obama hailed the nonbinding resolution — which calls for states with weapons to disarm, to ratify a ban on testing them and to agree to a treaty stopping the production of missile material — as “historic.” The test ban has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Congress, and is opposed by many in the Pentagon.

8. Inked out

S.J. program allows gang members to get rid of gang-related tattoos

The details: In an effort to curb gang activity and support at-risk youth, San Jose created the Clean Slate Tattoo Removal program that allows ex-gang members to remove gang tattoos in exchange for the participants’ involvement in education and community service activities. The 10-week program, which was started by the city’s Gang Prevention Task Force, includes youths from age 14 to 25. The most recent program graduated 34 participants.

9. Making nice

Tesla co-founders end lawsuit, praise to each other

The details: The co-founders of San Carlos-based electric car company Tesla Motors, Inc. settled their bitter legal battle with laudatory statements of each other’s accomplishments. Former CEO Martin Eberhard dropped his lawsuit accusing successor Elon Musk of slander, libel and falsely claiming to be a founder. Eberhard launched Tesla in 2003, then Musk joined a year later as majority investor. But now in a prepared statement, Eberhard called Musk  a “co-founder.” And Musk praised Eberhard as “indispensable” in the company’s creation.

10. Eureka!

U.K. Man finds historically important gold hoard

The details: An unemployed man from Staffordshire, England, unearthed some serious treasure when he discovered 1,500 pieces of Anglo-Saxon gold with his 14-year-old metal detector. Terry Herbert, 55, was in a private field when he stumbled upon approximately 11 lbs of gold and 5.5 lbs of silver in the form of warfare paraphernalia. Archaeologists believe the hoard, which dates back to the seventh century, may shed valuable new light on the lives of people living in the Dark Ages.


Bright light of the week: Bill and Melinda Gates

What: The Gates Foundation is working to bring bank accounts to the poor.

Why: It’s the world’s richest charitable foundation, and it’s continuing to share that wealth across the world. This week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it’s giving a $35 million grant to help the poor in Africa, Asia and South and Central America acquire banking services such as savings accounts and the ability to transfer money by cell phone.

According to the foundation, enabling people with a safe place to store their money will encourage them to save for the future, build businesses and care for their children. More than half the world’s adult population does not currently have access to savings accounts and other financial services.


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